Being Busy vs. Being Productive

July 12, 2018

On any given workday I find myself continually distracted because I’m multitasking—constantly switching from one task to another: writing an email while listening to the radio, answering a phone call while responding to a text, thinking about a particular client issue while the kids bicker in the background.

It’s not unusual for me to have five browser windows open and I’m often reading three or more books at any given time. And, as someone who works out of a home office, there’s the dog, the doorbell, and various other interruptions.

Little wonder it’s so difficult to remain focused on the task at hand. With the implied urgency of the text alert, the phone ringing, the dog barking, what is urgent has surpassed what is important. And that is a huge problem.

Turns out it is possible to maintain focus if you can sort through what is important and urgent. Then decide what can be planned out, what can be delegated to others, and what can be dropped because it is neither urgent or important.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important,” according to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This quote has evolved into what is called the Eisenhower Box.

The most productive people I know and admire are not those who are super busy, but those who are super focused. Their ability to tune out the noise in order to concentrate on what is most important is truly remarkable and admirable.

These are people who are disciplined to make the time and space for important and urgent things. They schedule when to do the important yet not necessarily urgent work and they follow up on it. They are willing and able to delegate that which is urgent, yet not important for them to do themselves. And they are people who eliminate tasks that are not important or urgent.

Years ago I read Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek. I also learned that multitasking actually prevents us from being truly productive. Nevertheless, it is rare that I make the time and clear the space for truly focused work. When I do, however, I am rewarded with the accomplishment of completing urgent and important things. This takes a great deal of discipline to maintain.

No matter what you do for a living and who employs you, it is the important and urgent work where you need to focus your time and energy. To do this it’s necessary to filter out that which you can decide when to do later, delegate what others can do for you, and delete whatever is unnecessary because it is neither important or urgent.

I recently put into place a plan for those things that are important yet not urgent such as responding to emails, writing blog posts and walking the dog. As an independent consultant, it’s a bit more difficult for me to delegate, nevertheless, I now enlist family and friends to share in the responsibility for urgent tasks in my personal life. These include shuttling the kids, shopping for and preparing meals, and planning trips. And I’ve dropped my Facebook account, greatly reduced my internet browsing, and refrained from obsessively consuming news.

All of these have enabled me the time and space for work that is truly important and urgent. Of course, it takes discipline to maintain this and there’s a tendency to retreat back to other tasks because it can be very satisfying to be busy and to check off accomplishments.

The important and urgent work is often harder. It’s like work that is strategic versus tactical. Strategy is much more important, yet less likely to be appreciated and satisfying because the results and rewards are not immediately apparent. Tactical work is more tangible and evident to ourselves and others. Delayed gratification is necessary for strategic work.

If you want to be more productive, you need to first determine what things are important and urgent. Then by deciding, delegating and dropping the rest, you will find that you have created the time and space for the important and urgent work.

Stop being so busy that you are unable to focus on what is urgent and important in order to be most productive.

Women in Leadership

June 21, 2018

Though some may want to deny it, men and women are judged differently when it comes to obtaining leadership roles in the workplace. This judgment is due to many reasons, but confirmation bias, a preference for promotional skills, and the acceptance of risk-taking and certainty in men but not in women all may play a role. Both men and women need to help change this.

According to the Center of American Progress, although women hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, they lag substantially behind men when it comes to representation in leadership positions. Consider:

  • Just 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs are women.
  • Women represent 20 percent of boards of directors in these companies.
  • Only 20 percent of the U.S. Congress is represented by women.
  • Though the U.S. ranks first in women’s educational attainment on the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Index of 144 countries, it ranks 26th in women’s economic participation and opportunity and 73rd in women’s political empowerment.

Women have outnumbered men on college campuses in the U.S. since 1988. They earned at least one-third of law degrees since 1980 and accounted for one-third of medical school students by 1990. Yet they have not moved up to positions of prominence and power in America to be commensurate with these statistics.

In a broad range of fields, women’s presence in top leadership positions—as equity law partners, medical school deans and corporate executives—remains stuck at 10 to 20 percent.

So why does this inequality persist? Three things to consider:

Confirmation Bias
According to a recent New York Times article titled “Picture a Leader. Is She a Woman?”, researchers found that when adults were asked to draw a picture of a leader, both men and women drew the leader as a man.

Nilanjana Dasgupta, professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, found that when we “process information through the lens of stereotype” our interpretation may be “consistent with stereotyped expectations rather than objective reality.” People who are consistently exposed to leaders who fit one profile will be more likely to notice leaders who continually fit that same profile. Dasgupta says this is how the self-reinforcing confirmation bias cycle works.

The more we repeat a false narrative of leadership as more masculine in our workplace, education, media, parenting and daily life, the more this perception persists. It is up to each of us then to recognize when we are promulgating this confirmation bias and resist it.

Promotional Skills
“Managing a team superbly ultimately proves you have great skills as a manager,”
says executive coach Carlos Martin. “But building strong outside networks is a promotional skill aimed at getting recognition for the larger organization. So while women are honing their management skills and sending the message that they’re wonderful managers, their male colleagues are busy building promotional skills and sending the message that they’re terrific promoters.”

Those in positions of power often see these promotional skills as more important for the organization as a whole and therefore those exhibiting them are more worthy of a leadership role. We could debate the qualities of management vs. leadership, but it’s clear that those in positions of power need to recognize these management skills as foundational to leadership. And it is equally clear that women need to accept these promotional skills as an important leadership quality, and seek to further develop them.

Risk-Taking & Certainty
Martin also found through psychometric surveys and coaching data suggesting that among those at the executive level, men are more likely to be rewarded for daring and risk-taking, while their women counterparts are more likely to be rewarded for precision and correctness.

And a study at the Harvard Business School titled “Who Gets Heard and Why” found that women are more likely than men to downplay their certainty when they speak. Many women adopted this habit, since certainty is often interpreted as arrogance in women.

Women tend to fear getting tagged with this trait with good reason as women perceived as arrogant are often viewed in highly negative terms, whereas arrogance in men is often interpreted with confidence and boldness. Is it possible for us to encourage women to speak with certainty without attaching arrogance to it?

Whether it’s confirmation bias, the preference for promotional skills, or seeing risk-taking and certainty as positives for men alone, we continue to undermine efforts for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles.

Research has shown that, when being considered for a promotion, women are more likely to be evaluated based on their contribution, while men are more likely to be evaluated based on their potential. This notion of potential is, of course, nebulous and highly subjective often resulting in a less qualified man getting the job.

My own daughter enters college next fall and plans to major in a male-dominated field of study. My hope is that as she proves herself worthy in obtaining her bachelor’s degree, she will enter the workplace four years from now with equal opportunities for leadership. And that her gender will not diminish her skills and expertise in order to reach her full potential.

Leadership and the To-Don’t List

May 9, 2018

At some point in our careers we have to face the fact that it may not be our lack of skills, experience or overall accomplishments, but specific behaviors that may prevent us from getting promoted to a higher position.

What often defines those who are able to rise to the ranks of leadership is the self-awareness to recognize how certain behaviors are holding them back and the courage to do something about them. Though these behaviors may have helped you get to where you are, they may be the very things holding you back from going further.

It’s not so much what you do, but what you need to stop doing, according to leadership coach and author Marshall Goldsmith.

“The higher you go in the organization, the more your problems are behavioral,” according to Goldsmith and Mark Reiter in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. “The higher you go, the more your issues are behavioral.”

And changing one’s behavior is extremely difficult. Consider new year’s resolutions, exercise commitments and diets that don’t lead to successful outcomes.

As a leadership coach, I work with those in—or hoping to reach—leadership positions, and most often it is not a lack of business or technical skills, but certain behaviors that are holding them back. And often it is not so much things they aren’t doing, but things they need to stop doing.

The great management consultant and author Peter Drucker said: We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend nearly enough time teaching them what to stop.

In every performance review, employees should learn what they are seen as doing well and should continue doing; what they are not yet doing and should begin doing; and finally what they are doing, but should stop doing. For whatever reason, this last one often gets left off unless the behaviors are especially egregious.

This gets us to the To Don’t list. Unlike the To-Do list, the To Don’t list should include behaviors you need to stop doing as they are undermining your performance and your ability to grow in your leadership potential. This list should certainly contain items brought up in your performance review because they are the most obvious to your supervisor. But they may not be as obvious to your supervisor or called out in a way that can be helpful to you.

One way to compile this To Don’t list would be to review feedback from performance reviews, 360 assessments, and other ways you have been evaluated. Look for themes and consider not simply dismissing those items that you don’t consider important to change.

Take for example sarcasm. This is a trait that can come across to many as funny and perhaps lighten the mood in certain situations. Sarcasm is actually a passive-aggressive form of communication that can undermine trust. If your identity is associated with sarcasm, you might consider how this may undermine your ability to be seen as a leader.

Though you may claim that sarcasm or another behavior is just who you are and can’t be that bad if it’s gotten you this far. Consider that certain traits that may not have been a problem in getting to this point are actually preventing you from rising higher because leadership has different demands and requires different behaviors.

This can be things like speaking instead of listening, commanding instead of inspiring, making excuses instead of owning up, or clinging to the past rather than letting go that prevent would-be leaders from rising to the C-suite.

It’s worth taking the time to make your To Don’t list and treat it as importantly as you do your To Do list. First identify and write down those behaviors you wish to change. Then focus on changing them. And in the same way you are more likely succeed with your exercise or diet, enlist others to provide encouragement, support and hold you accountable.

The Need for Moral Leadership

March 30, 2018

Every leader faces crossroad moments where he or she must choose between the most expedient, popular and/or profitable versus what can only be labeled as the morally correct choice. Far too often, however, leaders choose the former.

Take for example Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose company recently admitted that Cambridge Analytica, a firm that worked on behalf of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, misused Facebook users’ personal information gathered to target U.S. voters.

When Zuckerberg first learned of the data breach and was told Cambridge Analytica deleted the information of these 50 million users, why did he simply accept this on faith rather than verify with a thorough audit?

Facebook has seen a barrage of criticism for its failure to protect user data, the #DeleteFacebook movement continues to grow and their stock plunged 18 percent this week.

Instead of doing the right thing when he first learned third party companies were misusing user information, Zuckerberg said little and left the public wondering if Facebook’s growth-at-all-costs mentality means his company should no longer be trusted.

WIRED magazine’s Jessi Hempel recently wrote: “If Zuckerberg wants us to believe now that his company is not vulnerable, he must shore up trust in himself as an individual. It’s his only way forward.”

However, as the saying goes, trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair. Why would Zuckerberg or the leader of any organization risk a breach of trust?

Doing the morally correct thing requires looking beyond the expedient, popular or profitable when those are in contrast with what is considered the right thing to do. This requires putting people before profits. It requires putting customers before shareholders. It requires working in the best interest of those you serve. And it requires courage.

Ultimately, a moral leader is someone who leads to serve. What distinguishes moral leaders from ordinary leaders is that these leaders prioritize other peoples’ needs.

Yet leaders often find it hard to exercise moral agency due to the often ambiguous and conflicting expectations of the stakeholders to whom they answer.

Corporate leaders are too often judged primarily on quarterly earnings rather than the long term viability of the company. This hyper-focus on the near term to satisfy Wall Street is often at odds with building a sustainable corporation that delivers customer value and a desirable workplace.

Even non-profit leaders can get sidetracked if their mission is no longer in sync with the people they serve. Executive Directors are expected to provide greater outcomes with fewer resources, while board members challenge them to cut corners further.

And due to minimal regulation on money in politics, our representatives in government cannot be counted on to serve in our best interests when those with a louder voice (i.e., more financial contributions) will always have their interests served first.

It used to be that when leaders were caught lying there was a huge outcry resulting in severe consequences. Maybe due to the fact that the current President of the United States tells on average 5.5 lies every single day we have become immune to or at least more accepting of liars. The President has even convinced his followers that they should no longer believe anything because it’s all fake news.

Perhaps there’s reason for hope: At Harvard Business School, professor Sandra Sucher teaches a course that draws on the inspiration of literary and historical figures such as Machiavelli, Conrad, Shackleton and Achebe in order to encourage greater empathy and understanding. The novels, plays and biographies students read and discuss provide rich examples of moral dilemmas with a larger context than business case studies can provide.

Tylenol Extra-Strength cyanide-laced capsules resulted in the deaths of seven people in the Chicago-area back in 1982.  Johnson & Johnson chairman, James Burke, immediately formed a seven-member strategy team and his guidance on the strategy was first, “How do we protect the people?” and second “How do we save this product?” The order of these priorities was paramount to the successful future of the product and company.

People before product. People before profits. Moral leadership is about keeping these things in the right order.

Organizational Resiliency: Failing Forward

March 13, 2018

Emphasizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses is common not only for individuals, but for organizations as well. A relentless focus on success is certainly easier and more enjoyable, but at what cost is the unwillingness to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes?

Every individual and organization regularly fails. It is inevitable and it is absolutely necessary on the pathway to growth. Far too many of us, however, refuse to learn from or even acknowledge these mistakes or misfires.

Yet those individuals who do accept and take accountability for their weaknesses and mistakes are much more likely to learn how to overcome them. And organizations who are able to see the value that comes from acknowledging them and being accountable for them are likely to become more resilient and thrive.

“To be resilient after failures, we have to learn from them,” write Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in their book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. “We’re too insecure to admit mistakes to ourselves or too proud to admit them to others. Instead of opening up, we get defensive and shut down. A resilient organization helps people overcome these reactions by creating a culture that encourages individuals to acknowledge their missteps and regrets.”

Creating a culture that is not only willing to discuss mistakes and failures, but actively encourages the organization to open up and truly learn from them is one that is resilient. And this organizational resilience is at the heart of learning.

“When it’s safe to talk about mistakes, people are more likely to report errors and less likely to make them,” write Sandberg and Grant. “Yet typical work cultures showcase successes and hide failures.”

To highlight successes and hide weaknesses may make sense when individuals are applying for a job or organizations are trying to appeal to customers and shareholders. However, when it comes to effectively operating inside the organization, the need to acknowledge our failures and learn from them is profoundly important.

“Our observations have led us to believe that, just as individuals can learn to develop personal traits of resilience, so too can organizations develop a culture of resilience,” according to George S. Everly, Jr. in his 2011 article “Building a Resilient Organizational Culture” in Harvard Business Review.

“While human resilience may be thought of as a personality trait, in the aggregate, groups, organizations, and even communities can learn to develop a ‘culture of resilience’ which manifests itself as a form of ‘psychological immunity’ to, or the ability to rebound from, the untoward effects of adversity.”

Everly concludes that self-efficacy or the belief in one’s agency and the ability to be a catalyst for change along with optimism can form a powerful framework for building a resilient organization.

As one former Google executive explained to me, what they try to do at Google is rather than simply fail fast, it’s important to learn early and often. The anonymous quote comes to mind: Failure is not an option. It’s a privilege for those who try.

Organizational leaders must demonstrate to their employees that because failure is inevitable, it must be acknowledged and accepted. Failure and mistakes are only detrimental when they are repeated because learning did not take place.

Next time you make a mistake or fail in the workplace, make a point of publicly acknowledging it, then state what you learned and how you will ensure it won’t happen again. Though this will take courage and demand making yourself vulnerable, you will make it safer for others to do so in the future. You will also undoubtedly rise in your stature as a leader because you are doing what’s right for your professional growth as well as the growth of your organization.

The Gift of Being Heard

March 1, 2018

In this age of extraordinary technological advances and accelerating change, our ability to effectively communicate has diminished severely. This is partly because we are not equally focused on sending and receiving messages. And we don’t listen in a way that demonstrates that the other is being heard.

Despite the many powerful ways we have to connect, our ability to do this well has suffered. Think about how often you text when you really should talk. Or you choose email when you should call because your message requires some back and forth discussion.

Every new technology has to find its ideal purpose and this usually takes some trial and error. Remember when people faxed in their pizza orders? Just because we can text or email, doesn’t mean we should use them constantly and expect success in our communication.

As I wrote in a previous post, these “asynchronous communication vehicles have become the default way for far too many of us to interact with others.” Texting, emailing, and tweeting are all very effective for sending information. But when it comes to topics that are sensitive, require establishing trust or back-and-forth discussion, using the phone or meeting face-to-face is best.

We have become so focused on sending our perspectives, thoughts, feelings, selfies and the latest emojis that we are no longer as receptive to the other side of the communication equation: receiving. While we may feel confident that the content of our message was received, perhaps not the full sentiment.

However, when we can equally focus on the receiving end of a message, we can begin to engage in meaningful dialogue. We can enable true reciprocity. We can immediately see and/or hear the impact our message had on the receiver. And we can immediately respond in a way that effectively continues to move the conversation forward.

When you experience a communication breakdown in a message you initiate, it could be due to the receiver being confused or misunderstanding your intention because you’ve chosen the incorrect medium. If the receiver of your message can’t accurately interpret what you intended, the communication can fail—often miserably.

One reason is that we make a lot of assumptions in our interactions with others, and these assumptions often get in the way of successful communication. With texting and emailing, assumptions are more challenging to combat due to the fact that verifying them requires more back and forth that can seem to slow down the conversation. The nuance of effective communication—even for the most gifted writers—is often missing in text-only communication.

Being a good receiver in communication means you provide the sender with the gift of being heard—very difficult to do via text and email.  And this gift is all too rare these days. If you are able to give it to others, you will be appreciated and likely gain respect from your colleagues and affection from your family and friends.

One of the benefits of calling or talking face-to-face is you can immediately check on assumptions in order to eliminate any anxiety or confusion. You are also likely to pick up non-verbal clues based on tone of voice, facial expressions and body language that can help you determine whether there is congruence between what is being said and how they look and act when saying it.

Don’t underestimate your intuitive power of reading the sender of the message. You are able to pick up many things above and beyond the words. And this is missing in your texts and emails—no matter how many emojis and photo attachments may be included.

Communicating better requires you to become a better listener. This means really focusing on what the other person is trying to communicate. Whenever possible, ensure discussions that warrant it are face-to-face or by phone, and then provide the other person the gift of being heard.

Success in Difficult Conversations

February 8, 2018

In our work lives as in our personal lives we encounter situations that demand initiating a difficult conversation. These conversations are not easy, but shouldn’t be avoided because that can often make things worse.

As much as the conflict avoider in us may want to run in the other direction, those who are able to courageously confront the situation are likely to push through the discomfort and grow from it. In addition, the relationship that is demanding the difficult conversation will most likely move forward.

A difficult conversation results when two or more people have: 1) a difference of opinion, perspective, needs or wants; 2) feelings or emotions are strong; 3) consequences or the stakes are high for at least one person. When you’re in a difficult conversation, you may find:

  • There is little safety between participants
  • Emotions are defining the conversation
  • Very little listening is taking place
  • Participants are aiming for a win/lose scenario
  • Participants may be playing a role: victim, aggressor, martyr, etc.

Obviously, this can result in a highly stressful environment. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Use the following steps to be at your best when initiating a difficult conversation:

Stay Calm
Breathe. Try to be present of what you are feeling and what it is you want. If possible, try to determine what the other person may be feeling and wanting. And when you begin the conversation, be certain to communicate your intent up front in order to provide safety for the other person.

Shift Your Perspective
Rather than focus on how difficult the conversation is going to be, try to think of it as a constructive conversation. By initiating this constructive conversation, you are demonstrating the value the relationship has for you. Keep in mind that this is an investment of your time and emotional energy that will benefit you as well as the relationship.

Make a Plan
Have a clear idea of the points you want to make, but don’t write out a script. You should be able to summarize both your perspective as well as the other’s. If you are uncertain of the former, you need to figure it out before initiating the conversation. If you are uncertain of the latter, you should provide ample opportunity at the beginning of the conversation to better understand this. Be careful of assumptions you are making as these can so often derail any conversation, and are especially dangerous when emotions are high.

Prepare to Actively Listen
This means listening to the other person in a way that ensures he or she feels heard. Being an active listener means you make a conscious effort to truly hear what the other person is saying—in their words as well as their body language. Practice holding off thinking about how to respond or interrupting until you have thoroughly heard what they are saying.

Be Compassionate and Demonstrate Empathy
Consider how it may feel to be on the other end of this conversation. Be respectful while they take in what may be very difficult for them to hear. Convey in your words, tone and body language that you truly care for how the other person feels about what it is you are saying. Try to get comfortable with the awkward silence that may result.

Seek a Win-Win Conclusion When Possible
In most cases a successful difficult conversation doesn’t result in a winner and a loser. Therefore, seek out an amicable resolution to the conflict in a way that is satisfying to both parties. This is not always possible, of course, but even when you have to convey bad news such as a job dismissal, see if there is a way to soften the news. Perhaps it is simply providing information about out-placement services, severance package, a solid reference, etc.

Reflect & Learn
When the conversation is over, take a moment to reflect on what went well and what not so well. What could you have said better or differently? There are certainly things outside of your control in a heated conversation and you will need to maintain your boundaries. Don’t take on guilt for the other person’s negative reaction to your news. This requires courage and you will likely be fortified the next time you need to have a difficult conversation.

In order to have a constructive difficult conversation, the steps above should help you navigate them more successfully. In most cases, your efforts are likely to improve the relationship and build your skill at navigating future difficult conversations.

“Twenty years of research involving more than 100,000 people reveals that the key skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues,” according to the authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.

Start by rethinking your difficult conversation as more of a constructive conversation. Remember that whether it is with your family members, friends or co-workers you are directly confronting an issue that has stifled the relationship. Though it is not easy to do, the result of your efforts—in most cases—will move the relationship forward and build-up a powerful skill in you as a leader.

More (Positive) Feedback Please

January 11, 2018

Feedback. We all want it and perhaps those in the Millennial generation crave it more than most. But is anything less than positive feedback really appreciated and effective at bringing out our best performance?

Years ago I wrote a blog post titled Six Tips to Successfully Deliver Employee Feedback where I suggested “. . . if we are doing something not so well, we want to know what this is and especially how to correct it. Don’t underestimate a person’s level of resilience because such feedback loops are vital to their continued growth.”

But in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, an article titled Negative Feedback Rarely Leads to Improvement by Paul Green, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Business School, found that critical feedback from coworkers drove employees to adjust their roles to be around people who would provide more positive reviews. That is, when feedback was what they term “disconfirming,” the test subjects would seek others to provide “confirming feedback.”

Further, he found that when the relationship was discretionary—people didn’t have to work together—the person getting the negative feedback would just move away from that person or group. When the employees had to work together, however, the recipient of the negative feedback would look to connect with other people in the company in what they termed “shopping for confirmation.”

Negative feedback doesn’t provide the sustenance we need to enable us to maintain a positive view of ourselves, according to Green.

“The idea behind performance appraisals, and feedback in general, is that to grow and improve, we must have a light shined on the things we can’t see about ourselves,” says Green. “There’s an assumption that what motivates people to improve is the realization that they’re not as good as they think they are. But in fact, it just makes them go find people who will not shine that light on them. It may not be having the intended effect at all.”

What it comes down to is whether when receiving this critical feedback, the employee feels valued or not. Delivering the feedback sandwich of “here’s what you do well, here’s what you do not so well and keep up the good work” isn’t necessarily helpful. Instead, it should be about ensuring that employees first and foremost feel secure knowing that they provide value and their contributions are generally positive. Then the employee is able to hear and respond appropriately to the critical information.

In my work as a consultant and leadership coach, I find so often it is not the salary, job title, or other external expressions of worth, but whether or not the person feels they are valued by their manager, by their peers and by the company as a whole. And, ironically, conveying this appreciation of value to an employee costs the company nothing.

In some ways, this seems to further the argument that we should focus on maximizing strengths rather than minimizing weaknesses. But I think that would be short-sighted and reduce our ability to continue to grow and learn as we advance in our careers.

Regularly acknowledging and emphasizing the value employees provide means they may be much more open to hearing critical feedback. They may then be able to separate their job performance from who they are as individuals. Then they will be able to act on the feedback with a foundation of security that enables the courage to make necessary changes.

Breaking the Silence on Complicity

December 7, 2017

On the one hand we’ve seen the recent rise in naming complicit behavior, and on the other hand the rising response that this behavior will no longer be tolerated. Yet many of our leaders remain sitting on the sidelines. Why?

The word “complicit” was recently chosen as the word of the year by Dictionary.com citing the term’s renewed relevance in U.S. culture and politics. They also noted that a refusal to be complicit has also been “a grounding force of 2017.”

Their website defines complicit as “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having complicity.” According to Thesaurus.com, the opposite of complicit is clear, forthright and honest.

Two recent examples include an SNL skit involving Ivanka Trump, and outgoing Arizona Senator Jeff Flake’s speech on the Senate floor where he told fellow Republicans regarding the President, “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.”

Complicity was found not only in the political realm, but also in society’s role for contributing to climate change, normalizing of hate speech and supremacist groups, and the tacit enabling of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Time magazine’s person of the year in 2017 is “The Silence Breakers,” referring to those women who have courageously spoken out against perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the global conversation they have started. Edward Felsenthal, Time’s editor in chief, said in an interview on the “Today” show recently that the #MeToo movement represented the “fastest-moving social change we’ve seen in decades, and it began with individual acts of courage by women and some men too.”

Tarana Burke created the “Me Too” movement many years ago, but it didn’t go viral until actress Alyssa Milano urged those following her on Twitter to use the hashtag #MeToo if they had experiences of sexual harassment.

“I’ve been saying from the beginning that it’s not just a moment, it’s a movement,” Burke said in the same Today episode. “I think now the work really begins. The hashtag is a declaration. But now we’re poised to really stand up and do the work.”

The rise in the usage of the word “complicit” and American women’s courageous response in speaking out after acts of sexual harassment can serve as a catalyst towards positive change. We may one day look back at this time as a pivotal moment when leaders’ abhorrent behavior was no longer tolerated, and when powerful men across entertainment, media, politics and business were finally being held accountable.

So what are our leaders doing? Are they sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what the voters or customers decide? Are they following the advice of their crisis management consultants who tell them to hold off to see if this blows over before “getting ahead of the story.” Are they putting more pressure on their lawyers to ensure that their financial settlements hold up against future accusations?

Great leaders have integrity. They do not commit nor do they tacitly condone illegal acts and inappropriate behavior. And they speak out when they see wrong doing and stand up to their colleagues, coworkers, partners, friends and others to prevent such acts.

When others lie, deceive, cheat, mistreat women, or disparage innocent people, we must hold them accountable. This includes our bosses, colleagues, coworkers, friends and our elected officials not only for the acts themselves, but also for their complicity. And we must hold ourselves accountable as well.

Because that’s what leaders do. And whether we ourselves are leaders, want to become leaders, or just choose to follow other leaders, we must not be complicit in bad behavior.

An Attitude of Gratitude

November 21, 2017

Beyond football, eating a big meal, and gathering with extended family, Thanksgiving should be a time of, well, giving thanks. In that spirit, I want to express my gratitude for all that I am thankful for in my life.

First and foremost, I am grateful for my family, and the love and devotion they provide to help me be the best husband and father I can be. My wife and three children are the most important people in my life and, though I sometimes struggle to maintain the boundaries to honor this, I want them to know that I never forget they are my number one priority. I am also grateful to my mother, and my brothers and sisters—though we are scattered across the globe and span the political spectrum from Libertarian to Green Party—we share a common history and remain close in spirit if not in geography.

I am grateful for my friends, many of whom I have been lucky to count as such for more than thirty years. Though we are not always in sync in finding facetime, I know I can count on them to keep me from falling out of touch and becoming mere “Facebook friends.” In particular, The 728 Club has been especially meaningful to me as our tradition of semi-annual adventures have sustained and fortified our steadfast friendship. I hope all my friends understand that, although I am not regularly in touch, I am grateful for the continued love and companionship they provide me.

I am grateful for my clients, who continually astound me in the growth they achieve by courageously taking behavioral risks to reach their professional goals. The satisfaction in my work is derived entirely by the level I can help them grow to reach their full potential. As an independent leadership coach and consultant, I measure my success not only by the amount of revenue I generate, but by the level of success I have in moving my clients forward. I am thankful for choosing to work with me, choosing to trust in me, and choosing to take the hard steps necessary to move forward in the growth of themselves and their teams.

I am also grateful for my failures. I know that I would not be the person I am today were I not to have failed and learned by the process. In my previous career, I was once fired from a job and was devastated. I felt the debilitating shame of not being good enough. This was the culmination of previous smaller failures, which ultimately led to some deep soul-searching with regard to who I was and who I wanted to be. In the end, I redirected my focus and embraced the messages I was given in order to redirect my career. The result is I moved beyond career and into what I consider to be my calling, which is so much more satisfying. According to author Eloise Ristad, “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.”

I am grateful for my persistence and my patience. I am grateful for my resilience. And for following writer Anais Nin’s advice that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

I am grateful for learning to focus on abundance rather than scarcity. Grateful in embracing the somewhat paradoxical concept that true leadership requires the ability to be vulnerable. And learning that the three essentials of leadership are courage, clarity and humility.

Finally, I am grateful for you, my readers. I truly appreciate you reading these posts and hope you find value in them. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

(Precious) Time Management

November 9, 2017

There’s not enough time. Right? We’re all too busy in our personal and professional lives to squeeze in everything to make us feel happy and successful.

But what is sucking away our precious time and how much control do we actually have over it? Turns out the answers are: 1) distractions and 2) a lot.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about how to better maximize my time in order to accomplish more, reduce my stress, and increase my overall satisfaction in life. In this pursuit, I’ve read a couple of new books that help address this.

In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less author Greg McKeown writes that the way of essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time and it’s not about getting less done. Instead it’s about getting only the right things done and challenging the assumption of “we can have it all” and “I have to do everything” and replacing it with the pursuit of “the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.”

McKeown suggests the way of the essentialist requires doing less and doing it better, so you can make the highest possible contribution in your personal and professional life.

In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport describes deep work as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that enables you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Newport doesn’t argue that distraction is necessarily bad; instead he wants us to honor the massive benefits of focused attention.

This deep work, according to Newport, requires following four rules:

  1. Work deeply – The trend of open floorplans to engage greater collaboration and serendipitous encounters is helpful only when it includes a hub-and-spoke model where individuals can seclude themselves or their teams in areas to focus for regular long periods of uninterrupted time as well.
  2. Embrace boredom – Structure your time to reduce multitasking and your addiction to the little dopamine hits from reacting to text messages, emails, phone calls, etc. Consider an Internet Sabbath or digital detox in order to recharge yourself regularly.
  3. Quit social media – When you analyze the benefits you receive from using social media, many of us will find it is not really supporting our long term goals for productivity and happiness. Isn’t this virtual form of connection more anti-social anyway?
  4. Drain the shallows – Reduce the amount of shallow work you are currently doing that is not essential. Email is a big component and needs to be managed more effectively. Non-essential meetings are wasteful to individuals and companies. Schedule your entire day into 30 minute blocks and stick to this routine to help you focus on what’s important and eliminate much of the shallow work.

Now as a blogger who actively promotes this post via social media, I cannot justify fully quitting social media. However, I can choose to regulate how and when I interact with this tool. Simply calling social media a tool provides an important clarification regarding its overall value to me.

As an independent consultant, I should have the ability to take control over my time. But I also want to be responsive to my clients’ needs, react to new client requests, and be able to shift my schedule in order to accommodate shifts by others. On the personal side, like many of you, I have the usual demands and desires with regards to my family and friends that often run counter to my efforts to control my time.

Nevertheless, managing my time is entirely up to me and I can be successful if I choose to be intentional and disciplined. I suspect whether you work for yourself or someone else, you also have this opportunity to a large extent.

For me, managing my time effectively requires:

  • Maintain my priorities. The health and well-being of me and my family comes first. All my work and activities stem from what helps support these, and this means I can then choose how and when to attend to everything else.
  • Important and hard things first. I make time in the morning to work on the projects that require the most concentration and focus. I try to remove or delay distractions and less important tasks until later in the day.
  • 90-minute timeframes for focused work. Much like the importance of complete REM cycles when sleeping, a minimum of 90 minutes is required in order to go deep into focused attention. Keep away from multitasking as it undermines focus.
  • Take breaks to recharge. This can include the shallow work of writing and responding to emails and texts, taking phone calls as well as eating healthy meals, exercising, and chatting with co-workers.
  • Reduce web surfing and social media. In this age of distraction, we have the choice to either rule over the tools at our disposal or let them rule us. Judge for yourself whether time on these activities is helping or harming your ability to reach long term success and happiness.
  • Setting and maintaining boundaries. This is perhaps hardest for me as I want to say yes as often as possible. The trouble is I am undermining my effectiveness when I let people and projects permeate the important boundaries necessary for me to remain focused on one important thing at the expense of many other possibilities.

The older I get the more precious time becomes. I want to make the most of it and therefore I choose to be more intentional and disciplined about my time. I hope you can too.

Leaders Who Lie

October 27, 2017

Leaders who lie do not deserve our allegiance. The only reason they are able to rise and then remain in leadership positions is because those who follow them refuse to hold them accountable. And this lack of accountability undermines the overall effectiveness of the very people and the organization they serve.

Untruths. False statements. Stretching the truth. Misspeaking. Not entirely correct. Alternative facts. Why does the news media so frequently use euphemisms for the lies leaders tell? A lie by any other name is still a lie.

Despite the efforts of expensive marketing campaigns, public relations specialists, spin doctors, and dishonest spokespeople, we need to resist the temptation to simply accept the lies for anything other than what they are: a conscious and deliberate effort to deceive.

Every time we purchase a product or service from an organization with a leader who lies, we are complicit in the behavior. When we choose to work for a leader who lies to his or her employees, vendors, customers or shareholders, we are also complicit. And when we vote for and donate to elect representatives who lie to our fellow citizens, we are complicit as well.

When we refuse to hold our leaders accountable for their lies, we deserve what we get.

Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake recently announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018 declaring that he “will no longer be complicit or silent” in the face of the President’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified” behavior.  In his speech, Flake stated that Mr. Trump among other things has “flagrant disregard for truth and decency.”

The GOP largely shrugged at this announcement as well as statements by outgoing Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who accused Trump of serial lying and debasing the office of the presidency among other things.

The President of the United States of American currently tells five lies on average every single day. The tally is more 1,300 to this point in his term. And perhaps he is able to get away with it because he tells his followers what they want to hear: comforting lies rather than unpleasant truths.

False statements that are deliberately intended to deceive are lies, regardless of how often Sarah Huckabee Sanders serves up spin by saying “What the President meant by . . . “

“Trust is a function of two things: character and competence,” writes Stephen M. R. Covey in The Speed of Trust. “Character includes your integrity, your motive, your intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, your skills, your results, your track record. And both are vital.”

When we can’t trust our leaders it is due to their character and/or competence. And these two things are vital for us to be motivated to follow them.

Remaining silent or apathetic to lying leaders means they will continue to thrive. Holding them accountable will keep them from rising to or remaining in power. It’s entirely up to us.

Whether they lead an organization or a country, their effectiveness is undermined when they cannot be trusted. Those who are unwilling or unable to be honest with us deserve neither our respect nor loyalty.  Let’s not allow liars to be acceptable in leadership positions.

Courage When Leaders Abuse Power

October 11, 2017

Three prominent founder CEOs have recently been removed from their companies due to sexual misconduct. These men are Roger Ailes of Fox News, Travis Kalanick of Uber, and most recently Harvey Weinstein of the Weinstein Company. This abuse of power must stop.

Ailes and Weinstein were actually removed only after major news outlets reported the misconduct, which had begun long before yet was stifled through financial settlements with victims. Kalanick was removed after mounting allegations that he did little to stop a workplace culture that allowed for sexual harassment.

There is no acceptable reason for sexual harassment or misconduct to exist in the workplace. Yet far too many men in positions of power continue to take advantage of women. To change, it will take not only the courage of women to speak up but, perhaps more importantly, the courage of men to challenge those in power.

The misuse of power is unacceptable and these leaders should be held accountable. And the people working around them should be more courageous in stopping it. While Ailes and Weinstein both had allegations of sexual misconduct for decades, their corporate boards hesitated to make changes earlier because they feared such dynamic leaders couldn’t be adequately replaced. They put profits before people.

“Such uncertainties may explain why boards often miss the moment when a founder’s comportment goes from a foible to a liability,” as writer John Foley points out in a recent New York Times article. “Once they do, the grubby handprints are hard to scrub away.”

And when we accept sexually aggressive behavior as simply “locker room talk,” it minimizes the emotional impact and enables the potential physical harm it can lead to. If the collective community doesn’t categorically reject the behavior, it can be perceived as tacitly condoned.

“The behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar,” wrote actress Meryl Streep in a recent statement. “Each brave voice that is raised, heard and credited by our watchdog media will ultimately change the game.”

Women already feel a sense of guilt or shame when they are put into such a position. When other women and men try to ignore or normalize it, we continue to defer taking action. The fact is, sexual harassment never was acceptable back “when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.”

Little wonder that women are not adequately represented in leadership positions throughout politics and business. When men in positions of power continue to disrespect women there can be no parity. If we don’t collectively reject and condemn sexual harassment whenever it is seen, we will never get beyond the repression of women in the workplace.

Regarding Weinstein, Lena Dunham wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed article: “His behavior, silently co-signed for decades by employees and collaborators, is a microcosm of what has been happening in Hollywood since always and of what workplace harassment looks like for women everywhere.”

She goes on to say that men need to take responsibility for this. It takes courage for the women who are victims to speak up and it takes courage from the men who remain silent. Because when you don’t speak up, you are complicit in the behavior.

Dunham is absolutely right in that we men need to hold our friends, co-workers and those in power over us accountable for the things they say and do in objectifying women. And we need to challenge their values, their language and their actions.

Let’s not sit idly by while powerful bullies take advantage of other people. Instead, stand up to the unfair and reprehensible behavior toward women in the workplace. When you see leaders abuse power by taking advantage of others, be courageous and speak out.

In the words of Albert Einstein: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”

United We Stand . . . And Kneel

September 29, 2017

There is a lot dividing us these days. Whether it’s on the national political stage or in our own local workplace, we should be wary of the wedge that seeks to separate us.

On the national level are huge issues such as health care and race relations that require thoughtful and deliberate attention with respectful communication and solution-seeking collaboration. One side will not convince the other that they are wrong. But if people on both sides—our representatives in government as well as concerned citizens—are open-minded and listen respectfully to each other, there is room for us to unite around where we agree. And that is the beginning of the compromise necessary to find sustainable solutions.

President Trump says his opposition to NFL players taking a knee has “nothing to do with race” but has to do with “respect for our country and respect for our flag.” San Francisco 49ers Eric Reid writes that the protests he and Colin Kaepernick began by taking a knee have nothing to do with the flag and that it was meant to be a respectful gesture to protest police brutality against people of color. Can we be respectful of both perspectives?

Is it possible to raise awareness with regard to racial injustice without disrespecting the flag? Is it possible to take a knee during the national anthem without having it perceived as disrespecting the flag? This requires thoughtful discussion rather than dismissiveness.

We live at a time when politicians, pundits and Russian hackers via social media bots are deliberately trying to drive a wedge between Americans to keep us from having meaningful and productive discussions. Although this has been effective in the short-term at dividing us, this is counter-productive and needs to cease in order for us to move forward.

In the workplace, far too many organizations have encouraged or ineffectively discouraged the silo mentality that so often pits one person or workgroup against another. The lack of an “organization-wide team” mentality means the competitive spirit that is so important in beating external competitors is spent internally on pitting employees against each other.

We see this in hiring and promoting practices where the policy looks equitable on the surface, yet employees know many examples of people who are hired or promoted into senior positions without necessarily playing by the rules or demonstrating integrity. We also see it when one leader is rewarded for getting results despite the negative impact he or she has had on other leaders and their teams.

To suggest we need to always find consensus and conduct business in a way that doesn’t end in disagreements and disappointments is unrealistic. Business has winners and losers. What’s important is that we find respectful ways to really hear each other in service of the best solutions—not only those from the most dominant voices.

If NFL players can spend 60 minutes hitting and tackling each other, and then at the conclusion of the game give each other a handshake or hug, I think we can learn something from them. This is called good sportsmanship. It’s something we teach our children to demonstrate at soccer games, so why don’t we as adults abide by this in the workplace?

This means attacking the problem and not the people. When there is disagreement on the best approach for solving a problem, don’t look to criticize those people with alternative plans. Instead, seek to fully understand and evaluate their position before presenting your own.

Seek first to understand and then to be understood, wrote Stephen R. Covey in his classic best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This is not meant only for senior executives, but for personal leadership at every level in the organization. Only when you are able to fully understand another’s perspective can you hope to engage in an effective conversation.

So much misunderstanding stems from our making false assumptions and being defensive or intolerant. These prevent us from being able to actively listen to each other in order to fully understand the other’s perspective.

“The purist form of listening is to listen without memory or desire,” wrote psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. When you listen with memory, you have an old agenda. And when you listen with desire, you have a new agenda that you’re going to plug into the other person. Neither is effective to fully understand and appreciate the speaker’s perspective.

In order for us to be more united whether on a national level or in the workplace, will require us to truly engaging with each other in a respectful manner. This means seeking to understand before being understood. It requires the empathy to truly place yourself in the other person’s shoes before rejecting their perspective. It means monitoring your assumptions, defensiveness and intolerance.

United we will stand, divided we will fall.

Humility in Leadership

September 14, 2017

In my work as a leadership coach, I find that clients who make the most progress reaching their full potential are those who are able to acknowledge their weaknesses, and are secure in accepting the help to overcome them. This requires humility, and growing one’s humility leads to greater leadership.

The word humility is often defined as low self-esteem, self-degradation and meekness. When adults are asked to recount an experience of humility, they will often tell a story about a time when they were publicly humiliated. The word is weighted in weakness and negativity.

Humility is ultimately about being honest: Seeing and accepting yourself for who you really are and projecting that outward. This means obtaining an accurate understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses as well as the courage and tenacity to continue to grow. Know thyself and keep a beginner’s mind.

Humility is not about self-abasement or devaluing your own worth. In fact, to be genuinely humble requires enormous self-respect, according to Bob Burg and John David Mann in their book The Go-Giver Leader: A Little Story About What Matters Most in Business. “Self-respect is where every other kind of respect comes from. Respect from others is a reflection, not the source.”

If you want respect from others, you must first respect yourself. Trust won’t come from others until you fully trust yourself. This is an important point as you cannot seek something from others that you don’t already feel on your own. As the authors point out: You can’t ask the moon to make the sun shine.

“People with humility do not think less of themselves; they just think about themselves less,” writes Ken Blanchard in his book The One Minute Manager. Humility is the very opposite of narcissism, hubris and other forms of pride.

Yet far too often, being humble—like being vulnerable—is absent from most descriptions of what makes a great leader. And you won’t find humility taught in business schools.

As I wrote in an earlier post, humility in leadership requires listening well, admitting mistakes and promoting others. In this selfie-obsessed, social media-focused time we find ourselves, it certainly seems to run counter to cultural norms. And perhaps that is exactly why we need it so desperately in our leaders.

Increasing one’s humility is a challenging process. George Washington struggled his entire life to become and stay humble. As a young man, his ego was enormous and his ambition outstripped his many accomplishments. Yet he remained vigilant in his quest for this virtue.

How can you spot a leader who is not so humble? He or she is very likely intellectually arrogant and claims to have all the answers, and may even be threatened by new information that runs counter to what they already believe.

Researchers Bradley Owens and David Hekman studied humble leadership in every area from the military to manufacturing to ministry. They concluded that the hallmark of a humble leader is his or her willingness to admit their own limitations and mistakes.

As Owens and Hekman wrote in Academy of Management Journal, “Our findings suggest that humility appears to embolden individuals to aspire to their highest potential and enables them to make the incremental improvements necessary to progress toward that potential.”

It should come as little surprise then that humble leaders of organizations have less employee turnover, higher employee satisfaction, and better overall company performance.

Humility is what pushes us to become our best selves. And that is important in your growth as a leader.

Positive Morning Routine: Why it Matters

September 1, 2017

How do you start your day? It may very well determine whether you reach your goals.

Maybe because it’s back to school time, but I’m seeing a lot of articles, blog posts and podcasts related to “what successful people do every morning.”

All of us currently have a morning routine and most of us follow it without questioning whether it is helping or hampering our efforts to reach our goals. Those who start each day with deliberate, disciplined and mindful practice could very well be more successful in life.

So if you want to realize your dreams, perhaps it’s worth the effort to begin each day with the right physical regimen, mental discipline and emotional attitude. But what should it be?

In a widely circulated video on social media, US Navy Admiral William H. McRaven says if you want to change the world, start off each day by making your bed. This little task provides you with the motivation throughout the day for accomplishing other tasks. And, even when your day doesn’t go so well, he says you will always have the satisfaction of at least going to sleep in a well-made bed.

Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, recommends the following tweaks to your morning routine in order to be more productive throughout the day:

  • Drink lemon water
  • Exercise or mediate before eating
  • Eat a healthy breakfast
  • Set realistic and achievable goals for the day

On this last one, Bradberry says research has shown that having concrete goals is directly correlated with huge increases in confidence and feelings of being in control. And it’s important that these goals are not vague, but specific to each day as it puts everything into motion.

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, practices these five items that help him win the day:

  • Make your bed
  • Mediate (10 – 20 minutes)
  • Do 5 to 10 reps of something (less than 60 seconds)
  • Prepare and drink Titanium Tea
  • Write Morning Pages or 5-minute journal

In these Morning Pages, Ferriss suggests responding to the following prompts: “I am grateful for . . . , What would make today great?, and Daily Affirmations: I am . . .“ In the evening, he suggests answering the following: “3 amazing things happened today and How could I have made today better?” This intentional practice can help you focus in the morning and reflect at the end of each day.

Whether you are prepared to switch from coffee to lemon water or Titanium Tea is really beside the point. What’s vital is that you embrace the importance of your approach to each morning in order to facilitate just how productive you’ll be the rest of the day. And you can choose to embrace a discipline that will help you reach your goals.

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect is to ensure you are getting a good night’s rest. This cannot be emphasized enough. If you are not getting enough sleep, you will not be motivated to stick to any routine and you will likely be depleted of the vital energy you need no matter how much caffeine you consume.

Healthy Breakfast
The next should be a given: the most important meal of the day. You must fuel your body with appropriate nutrition to sustain your body until your next meal. You may protest that you don’t have time to prepare and eat a healthy breakfast, and therefore are able to rationalize that at least that Starbucks organic scone is much better than a Crispy Crème glazed donut. The reality is some foods will lift you up and sustain you while others only give you a quick dopamine hit and then leave you flat. Making the time for and choosing the healthier option is your choice.

Exercise/Meditation
Though I don’t feel like exercising in the morning, I’m a strong believer that exercise needs to be routine in order for it to become a habit. Putting it first in the morning ensures it doesn’t get put off or neglected. And by getting your blood pumping in the morning, you will have the vital energy and positive attitude you need to be most productive throughout the day. Gentle yoga or meditation can provide a similar boost without the physical exhilaration you find with a more rigorous workout.

Mindfulness
This could be simply acknowledging what you are truly grateful for at this particular time. Rather than rushing into organizing your brain around your responsibilities and tasks for the day, take the time to acknowledge and, if at all possible, express your gratitude to those to whom you are grateful. Then contemplate how you would approach this day if you knew it was the last day of your life. How can you live more deliberately and mindfully?

When you first wake up you set the tone for how you will approach the day. The more this becomes a positive routine, the more likely you are to maintain it. You may not feel the full effects of it for weeks, but eventually you will begin to notice that your body feels better and your overall disposition is working in your favor rather than against you.

And it may be as simple as making your bed.

Personal Integrity in Leadership

August 17, 2017

Now that the President’s manufacturing council has disbanded following a wave of defections, it’s worth exploring how personal integrity fits into leadership. At what point should a leader remove him- or herself from a situation where they feel their moral code is being challenged?

One could argue that with the exception of Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who was the first to resign after President Trump’s tepid response to what transpired in Charlottesville, VA last weekend, those who resigned after him may have calculated the pros and cons of remaining on the council and chose to leave only after it was determined it would not negatively affect their corporate interests.

Many members of the advisory group stood with the president even as he advanced policies they vehemently opposed. One could argue that with both Trump’s ban on immigration from the Middle East (Uber’s Travis Kalanick) and the decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord (Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Bob Iger) CEOs who resigned from the manufacturing council or strategic and policy forum were taking a stand that was more directly related to their corporate interests than personal conscience.

But at what point should we expect our leaders to stand up for principles above profits? When should they put corporate values above shareholder value?  When should concern for Americans in general be more important than an organization’s products or services?

I believe Mr. Frazier answered this question very well.

“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Mr. Frazier said in a statement on Monday. “As CEO of Merck, and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

It’s unfortunate the President chose to respond to this with a tweet essentially belittling Mr. Fraizer’s integrity by changing the subject and attacking his company over drug pricing.

In a way it’s also unfortunate that it took the only African-American member on the council to resign before others chose to follow suit. How can any leader with integrity passively condone statements that run counter to who they are as individuals? I believe this “personal conscience” should actually help guide the decision-making of those leading our organizations.

Leadership requires a level of personal integrity that employees, customers and shareholders can all rely upon. When leaders take a stand against what conflicts with their personal conscience, they courageously hold true to who they are. This personal choice to hold themselves to consistent moral and ethical standards is vital as they lead large organizations. And it is what separates great leaders from others.

When business leaders see it as morally compromising to take part on a President’s council, it is extremely important that they take a stand because they are in a position to do so. The leadership they demonstrate transcends quarterly financial reports. It is about personal integrity and that defines great leadership.

Now if only our Republican representatives could demonstrate the same kind of leadership.

The Value of Organizational Values

July 6, 2017

In personal relationships we tend to choose others who share our values—regardless of whether they are friends or romantic interests. This is because values help define who we are and what we stand for. When this is shared between yourself and another, it provides the foundation to maintain a solid relationship both can depend on.

In politics, Democrats and Republicans might make a lot more progress if they were to identify and build upon what values they share in common. Our representatives in congress should seek out and build upon what their constituents share in common with the constituents of other representatives in order to make progress. The process of differentiating oneself from one’s opponent may work well in campaigning, but it is detrimental to effective governing.

In any organization, values define what it stands for, how it makes decisions, conducts business and the type of people it seeks to attract—customers, partners and employees.

All too often I see an organization’s corporate values clearly displayed on a website, but not truly embraced in the way its people function. This is not only bad for the bottom line, it’s bad for attracting the right talent.

Core values should support the company’s vision and shape the culture. That’s because values are the very essence of a company’s identity, its principles and beliefs. These values should not be defined in haste nor should they be so generic or fluffy that they don’t really mean anything.

The best values are those that are unique and demonstrated so often that they are embodied rather than simply memorized.

Core values can be an important differentiator and build a more solid brand. They can:

  • Enable better decision-making with regard to partnerships, employee engagement, quality standards, customer satisfaction, etc. The more values are integrated into the decision-making process, the easier it is to make hard choices.
  • Educate partners and customers so they are able to invest in an organization that is aligned with their own values. Social media is building brand awareness like never before and, with so many options, today’s consumers will choose products and services from those companies who they can identify with most closely.
  • Help recruit the right employees because they can see that these corporate values are congruent with who they are as individuals. This alignment is becoming increasingly important as Millennials are seeking much more than a paycheck in their careers.

Placing an emphasis on core values will improve every aspect of business, but only if these values are meaningful, fully demonstrated and embraced by every employee. Make an effort to ensure your organization’s values are the right ones and that they are more than mere words on a website.

Leader as Listener

June 21, 2017

Boilerplate copy on resumes typically include the phrase “excellent communication skills.” But how many people really have them?

Communication is so often thought of as speaking and writing well. While these are certainly important, it is not only the clear dissemination of thoughts and ideas, but also the receptivity and complete understanding of other people’s thoughts and ideas.

Excellent communication skills include the ability to listen really well, and leaders need to do this is order to be successful.

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of connective listening. In their book Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In, authors Mark Goulston and John Ullmen describe this as listening with the intention to fully understand the speaker and strengthen the connection. Connective listening is about listening from their there instead of your here.

Listening is a lot more than hearing the words that are spoken. Body language, tone of voice, inflection and other factors can either amplify, distract or totally contradict the words that are spoken and this needs to be incorporated into effective listening. To become an excellent listener means being able to go to different levels in order to fully understand.

In their book Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence, authors Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins write that in order to improve the ability to listen and engage, a leader needs to master three levels of listening: surface, issues-based and emotions-based.

Level One: Surface Listening – This is listening to hear what is actually being said and taking the words at face value. You do this by making eye contact, nodding your head, and repeating back what you hear. The speaker is then confident that you are following along and engaged in a way that enables the effective transfer of thoughts and ideas.

Level Two: Issues-based Listening – This is the ability to focus intentionally on what really matters. Rather than listening only to the basic facts, you are looking for the underlying message. Reading between the lines, so to speak. This may require asking clarifying questions to get the speaker to expand his or her thinking and say more. The underlying issues are what you are seeking to fully understand.

Level Three: Emotions-based Listening
– This is the deepest level of listening that enables you to uncover the real agenda at play. Leaders who listen at this level are able to sense the underlying emotions and motivation behind the issues. They listen to the nonverbal cues, such as the speaker’s body language, tone of voice, and overall mood. You discover the assumptions the speaker is making. Once you understand what’s going on under the surface, you are then able to name and acknowledge it. You can paraphrase what you hear and perhaps add what you sense the speaker is feeling as well. This type of listening requires you to be objective, open and curious. It takes a great deal of effort to be this present. And it takes the courage to name and say aloud the emotions being felt.

Each of these levels is essential for leaders to be effective listeners. The important thing is to practice each so that you can deploy the appropriate level when the situation requires it.

With social media’s focus on “selfies,” “likes” and “followers,” your leadership will stand out if you are able to make the most of interpersonal one-on-one, real-time communications. This means truly engaging by listening more effectively using these three levels.

Magnetic Leadership

June 2, 2017

For companies to thrive they need great leadership. So how do we define great leadership and what are the behavioral traits of a great leader?

In his best-selling book Good to Great, author Jim Collins wrote about what he called Level 5 Executive leaders who build enduring greatness through the paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. He describes these Level 5 leaders as both modest and willful, humble and fearless.

“Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well,” writes Collins. “At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.”

What the business world needs more than ever now are Level 5 leaders. It needs men and women who understand how to attract and grow talented employees. Their focus should be on people before products and profits. Customers and shareholders will be satisfied only when employees are fully engaged and optimally performing.

In Roberta Chinsky Matuson’s book The Magnetic Leader: How Irresistible Leaders Attract Employees, Customers, and Profits, she defines seven irresistible traits of magnetic leaders. These are authenticity, selflessness, strong communication, charisma, transparency, vision and resilience. Matuson also provides important questions to ask yourself in order to strengthen these traits.

Authenticity requires admitting you don’t know everything, being truthful and sharing your backstory. To increase your authenticity, ask yourself:

  • Do I bring my whole self to work or do I leave parts at home?
  • What have I done within the last week to build trust?
  • How often do I share my backstory with employees and prospective candidates?

Selflessness requires the humility to focus on another’s success. Strive to be more of a servant leader and ask yourself:

  • Are people following me because of what I can do for them or are they doing so because of what I can do to them?
  • Do I take more than I give?
  • What have I done today to put others before myself?

Strong Communication means focusing as much on the way you say something as you do with the words you choose. Consistent communication is directly connected to higher employee engagement. And strive to become a better listener. Ask yourself:

  • Am I fully present when people speak?
  • Is my communication clear or is it a bit cloudy?
  • How often have I reached out to team members in person, on the phone or via e-mail or Skype this week?

Charisma means as a leader you are able to influence and inspire others. It is often defined by those who exude confidence and express positivity. Ask yourself:

  • Do I genuinely like being around people?
  • Do I express my ideas in a way that exudes confidence or do I radiate self-doubt?
  • Do I expect people will do their personal best or do I believe most people will merely look to get by?

Transparency is linked to candor and this requires trusting others as the only way to build and sustain relationships. To increase your transparency, ask yourself:

  • How often do I filter what I tell people?
  • How frequently do I shield information from others for my own benefit?
  • Am I being transparent or a bit murky?

Vision is about seeing the bigger picture and then painting it for others to see. In order to assess where you are on vision, ask yourself:

  • Am I focused on everyday tasks or long-term outcomes?
  • How often do I take time out of my day or week to think about the future?
  • Who in the organization has potential that is not being realized and what can I do to help unleash that potential?

Resilience is about the ability to carry on in spite of a hopeless situation. It is about the grit that enables one to get back up after falling down. To further build this resilience, ask yourself:

  • Do I take responsibility for my failures or do I place the blame elsewhere?
  • Do I pick myself up quickly after a failure and move forward?
  • Do I play it safe to avoid failure or do I take risks so I can grow?

Often it is the questions that matter most. The best questions can help us to understand and grow. Asking and answering honestly to the questions above can help determine how you measure up in order to assess your own magnetic leadership.

In the conclusion of her book, Matuson describes management as a destination while leadership as a journey. She writes that “the way you choose to lead matters more than your intentions, and that every day is a new opportunity to lead in a way that is memorable for the right reasons.”

Great leadership embraces the notion of continuous learning and growth. To be a magnetic leader, seek to become more of who you are and embrace these seven traits.

Three Steps to Effectively Using 360 Feedback

May 5, 2017

If you are lucky enough to receive a 360-degree feedback survey to help you grow in your effectiveness within an organization, it’s vitally important that you do something with the results.

Constructive feedback from peers, direct reports, and bosses enable you to confirm and capitalize on your strengths and to neutralize your weaknesses in order to become a more effective leader. When taken seriously, this feedback can be especially instructive and help you reach your potential.

All too often, however, the data collected is read and then promptly put away in a file cabinet where it’s forgotten. This contributes to what is often viewed as a waste in leadership development programs.

A 2012 Study found that American companies spend almost $14 billion annually on leadership development. Much of this is wasted because there is too much attention spent on gathering data or delivering information (e.g., classroom settings) and not nearly enough in planning and executing continuous improvement and accountability.

Critics may say 360 feedback surveys are not objective and therefore may not be reliable. While it’s true that the responses are subjective to the person doing the scoring, this doesn’t mean the results are not relevant or reliable. When 15 to 20 of your colleagues agree that you have a difficult time delegating, these subjective opinions are, in fact, a valid indicator of your workplace behavior.

The data collected can sometimes turn out to be contradictory, but this too can be instructive. If, for example, your direct reports all agree you are stellar at influencing and persuading, but your CEO says otherwise, it doesn’t mean you should discount the CEO’s perspective. It means that when presenting in front of the CEO you may not be as confident, comfortable or effective as when you’re presenting to your staff.

Ideally, all of your colleagues and direct reports would voice their perspective on your strengths and weaker areas in a direct and constructive manner. But we don’t live and work in this ideal world. The survey can often be a useful way to begin a conversation.

The information you receive in results of a 360 survey can often confirm what you already know and, more importantly, contradict or surprise what you thought you knew. This should be taken and used instructively to help you to grow. Constructive feedback is not always easy to hear and often requires a coach or manager to help you develop a plan for your learning as well as hold you accountable to it.

In my experience analyzing and delivering feedback from such surveys, most of my clients find the information accurate or at least can find a kernel of truth in the responses they receive. In this way, the individual is often able to see and accept what may have previously been a blind spot for them.

In many cases, the client seeing a behavioral attribute rated particularly low by so many colleagues can help motivate him or her to make changes. This is where the guidance of a coach or manager can be especially useful in helping to navigate a successful path to growth.

The most effective process to build on the feedback is to 1) Create goals specifically around weaker areas; 2) Develop a plan for how to accomplish such goals; 3) Have someone hold you accountable for achieving the goals.

  1. SMART Goals By taking the low scoring areas and building SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals around them, the individual has something to work on. Writing this down and keeping it front and center keeps it actionable.
  2. Development Plan Once the goals are written, the next important step is to develop a plan for how to go about achieving them. Such a plan should document the necessary resources, knowledge and skills, mindsets, settings in which to practice new behaviors, and the specific individuals you will rely on for support and review.
  3. Accountability Few of us are disciplined enough to achieve such behavioral goals without another person holding us accountable. This is where the person’s manager (Chairman of the board in the case of a CEO) comes in. By being completely transparent with a Development Plan, the person’s boss can then encourage, support, direct and, most importantly, hold the individual accountable for the achievement of such goals.

Like any leadership development program, a 360-feedback survey is only helpful when it is combined with follow-up action. And the best way to learn anything new is not simply by reading, but by putting into action what has been learned. This can be especially challenging with regard to behavioral skills and therefore requires the three steps highlighted above.

Know thyself by taking the 360 feedback as a measure of where you are perceived to be today. Then take the appropriate steps to move this learning into actionable steps to implement behavioral changes necessary to become a better leader.

March for Workplace Health & Viability

April 20, 2017

The March for Science will be held in Washington, D.C. and more than 500 communities around the world on April 22, 2017. This coincides with Earth Day and it’s hard to believe that in the 21st Century there is even a need to demonstrate support for something so fundamental as the planet we live on and the very foundation of principles which have enabled us to thrive.

“Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions,” as stated on the organization’s website. “At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers. It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.”

With the recent downfall of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly due to the disclosure of a series of sexual harassment allegations against him, perhaps some of his viewers may be more skeptical of the moral superiority of popular talking heads such as him. Maybe they will rethink whether tuning in to hear one person’s opinions will lead them to the truth better than research-based proven scientific facts. As much as we may want easy answers to complex issues, they won’t come from any one pundit, commentator or so-called analyst.

We live at a time when we celebrate science fiction more than science. Although Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series is making inroads, it’s the fictional Star Wars, The Avengers and The Hunger Games where people spend their hard earned money and precious leisure time. As a nation we honor the achievements of athletes, musicians and actors far more than we do those of scientists, mathematicians and physicists. And they are paid a lot more as a result.

The fact is we over value entertainment and under value education. No wonder so many children when asked what they want to be when they grow up no longer say a doctor or fireman, they say they want to be rich and they want to be famous.

Actor Jim Carrey once said: “I think everybody should get rich and famous, and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

In the workplace we see the effects of this focus on shortcuts and quick fixes in the form of growth at the expense of actual value. According to a 2013 McKinsey survey, more than half of corporate executives said they would pass on a viable project “if it would cause the company to even marginally miss its quarterly earnings target.” These leaders are so afraid of shareholders that they dismiss what they believe to be in the best long-term interests of the company’s profitability because they are measured simply quarter to quarter.

This is crazy, of course, and it is not sustainable. Douglas Rushkoff, author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, says this is a tornado of technological improvements that has spun our economic model out of control and humanity as a whole is trapped by the consequences.

As an example, Rushkoff writes about robotic ad-viewing programs or bots that are now used by some unscrupulous companies to raise their pay-per-click advertising revenue. These bots are often run secretly on our computers in the form of malware and, as a result, advertisers were projected to lose $6.3 billion in pay-per-click fees to imaginary viewers in 2015.

The irony is that these malware robots watch ads that are monitored by automated tracking software tailoring every advertising message to suit the malbots’ automated habits inside this personalization of a feedback loop. No human eyeballs may ever see or respond to the ads. No value is created and yet billions of dollars are made.

While many corporations are focused on short-term growth and profitability at the expense of long-term and sustained value, their employees are contributing to this as well.

Employees contribute to this, when they seek to:

  • Accomplish individual objectives though they may be in conflict with the collective goals of the workgroup or company.
  • Look busy multitasking rather than move important things forward by taking on the challenges of critical thinking.
  • Efficiently empty our email inbox rather than doing what’s more important yet may not yield tangible results as quickly.
  • Ask for promotions based on how we match up to our colleagues rather than on our own competence and capability.
  • Simply follow along and remain “under the radar” rather than push back and risk retribution when we know better.
  • Respond to constant disruptions with the dopamine hit of “likes” on social media instead of staying focused on the laborious job-related task in front of us.

The workplace should be one where all workers seek to provide sustainable value. CEOs and employees should all be motivated and compensated for delivering products and services that meet or exceed customer expectations. Rather than focus on short-term profitability, the goal should be long-term value. In this scenario, shareholders will continue to receive their return on investment, yet over a longer period of time. Think Berkshire Hathaway rather than Facebook.

Our current economic model for publicly traded companies that demands quarterly profits at the expense of longer term viability may no longer be relevant. Instead, we need to focus on doing what’s right rather than what’s expedient.

And we cannot rely on pundits in the political or financial realms to provide us with quick and easy answers. Instead, we should seek the continually evolving, research-based, peer-reviewed nature of scientific experimentation to understand how to improve our workplace and our economy. March for science. March for truth. March for workplace health and viability.

One Boomer’s Advice to Millennials

April 7, 2017

With the Millennial Generation now representing nearly 45% of the U.S. workforce, it’s clear we are experiencing a huge cultural shift. And while these younger workers may report to other Millennials, Generation Xers or Baby Boomers, there are certain protocols they should consider as they navigate their careers.

The Baby Boomer generation was largely responsible for launching the technological age we now take for granted. This required that Boomers continually adapted to change in order to stay relevant as the workplace became more technologically mechanized.

Millennials, on the other hand, don’t know life without computers and the Internet. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also need to continually adapt to change. In fact, it may be that their generation has experienced and will continue to experience more and more rapid change than those who preceded them.

Adapting to change should ultimately be seen as a way of being. This is not only true with regard to technological skills, but also business processes and the skills of interpersonal relationships, leadership development, and other soft skills. Lifelong learning requires maintaining curiosity and a beginner’s mind.

With that, I offer a few thoughts on what may be helpful to Millennials as they navigate the workplace not only with outgoing Baby Boomers, but also Generation Xers and their fellow Millennials.

Communication
Communicating effectively requires choosing the appropriate medium and using the correct message. Don’t assume that an emoji-ridden text message will be appropriate when in fact a face-to-face conversation is necessary. And a true conversation requires listening as well as speaking. It demands your full attention to be most effective. While everyone lists “excellent communication skills” on the resume, very few people are truly excellent at it. Make it a practice to continually hone your ability to write, speak and listen effectively.

Collaboration
Unlike previous generations, Millennials have been taught from early on to work and learn in groups. Collaboration is especially valuable in today’s workplace because most of the work is completed by groups of people. These groups are also more diverse and your ability to get along with your coworkers will determine how effective the group is at accomplishing its goals. This will require shared respect, trust, and effective communication. Make it a practice to continually learn how to navigate these relationships effectively.

Accountability
The modern workplace requires more self-reliance and therefore it’s important for you to take responsibility for your career. Accept that no one is going to determine your success or failure more than you are. While you will likely always have a boss, it is up to you to determine the level of direction and support you need in order to succeed at what you do. You need to take responsibility for continually communicating this to your boss. And understand that though you may be used to and feel you require constant feedback for how you’re doing, that may not be a priority or general practice of your boss. Be accountable for what you need to do your job and to advance your career.

Finally, as I’ve learned in my nearly 40 years of work, it is vitally important to stay authentic and live your values. There may be a time when you will need to make a change because where you work or what you do comes in conflict with who you are. Life is short and therefore you should do whatever you need to do to align who you are with what you do. And remember: Love people and use things. Because the opposite never works.

Presence in the Age of Distraction

January 25, 2017

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but never before have I felt it so difficult to be present. Whether this is about mindfulness, grounded or being in the moment, the ability to stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time has become harder to do.

Technology certainly enables us to do many things simultaneously in the belief that we are accomplishing more, staying better informed, making higher quality decisions, and being more connected to others. And while that potential is certainly there, I would argue that for most of us we are not using technology to do this. Instead, the very technology we embrace is no longer serving as a tool, it has actually contributed to keeping us from being present.

You don’t have to look far for examples:

  • Screen Time – In 2014 Americans spent an average of 7.4 hours staring at screens (TV, computer, smartphone, tablet) each day, according to Kleiner Perkins Internet analyst Mary Meeker.
  • Cell Phones – We now check our cell phones on average 46 times each day and this is up from 33 times each day in 2014, according to a study by Deloitte. For 18-24 year olds, that figure rises to 82 times per day. In total, we spend an average of 4.7 hours each day on our phones.
  • Email – The average office worker receives 121 emails per day, according to a report by DMR Stats in 2015. Not nearly enough of us control how these incoming emails are managed and how often the messages interrupt our focus on the task at hand.
  • Text Messages – According to a Forrester research study, more than 6 billion text messages are sent every day in the United States. And 90% of these messages are read within three minutes, according to ConnectMogul.
  • Social Media – Americans on average check their social media sites 17 times each day. While it is tempting to believe this is all about teenagers, it turns out the highest reported usage was among those 25 to 54 years old.

So what’s the big deal you may ask. Aren’t we being more present in more places and with more people? Presence doesn’t work that way.

Being present means you are fully engaged on the immediate task or the person in front of you. The notion of parallel processing is fine for computers, but we humans cannot optimally function when our brains are tasked with multiple processes. The more fragmented our focus, the harder it is to concentrate on any given thing.

This is not to say you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. It is not the things that require little concentration or focus, but the ones that do. And by not exercising this focused attention, we are likely to fail at it when we need it most.

“Optimizing your presence is about learning how to flourish during stressful moments,” according to Amy Cuddy, author of Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Opportunities. Accessing your personal power can help you achieve presence—the state in which you stop worrying about the impression you’re making on others and instead adjust the impression you’ve been making on yourself.

“To be present, it’s not enough to know who you are and express it to others,” writes Cuddy. “You need to act on it.”

In 1992 psychologist William Kahn studied psychological presence in the workplace and he identified four critical dimensions: a person must be attentive, connected, integrated and focused.

“These dimensions collectively define what it means to be alive, there in the fullest sense, and accessible in the work role,” Kahn wrote. “The result is personal accessibility to work (in terms of contributing ideas and effort), others (in terms of being open and empathetic), and one’s growth (in terms of growth and learning). Such presence is manifested as personally engaged behaviors.”

Perhaps Cuddy, the Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist who became famous when her Wonder Woman pose 2012 TED Talk went viral, sums it up best:

“Your body shapes your mind. Your mind shapes your behavior. And your behavior shapes your future. Let your body tell you that you’re powerful and deserving, and you become more present, enthusiastic, and authentically yourself.”